I was living in New Orleans when the David Vitter prostitution scandal first broke, and many of my progressive friends wondered when Vitter would resign — especially since a year earlier Vitter said that he was “a conservative who opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history.” It turns out that despite cheating on his wife and breaking the law, Vitter would not only refuse to resign, but would be cruising to re-election a few years later. It turns out that Republican voters don’t actually hold Republican office-holders to their own professed standards:
Vitter is clearly being boosted by President Obama’s unpopularity in the state, and by Melancon’s low name recognition. But a bigger factor may be a peculiar form of partisanship.
Within the past year, PPP has canvassed Republican voters in three states represented by scandal-dogged GOP politicians: Vitter in Louisiana, Sen. John Ensign in Nevada and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. (Ensign and Sanford both had extramarital affairs.) In all three cases, the support of Republican voters remained solid. Last year, when Vitter’s embarrassment was fresher in voters’ minds, Republican voters in his home state still gave him a 62-19 approval rating.
It’s not necessarily shocking that partisans would support one of their own. But this doesn’t apply across the board. When Larry Craig was caught in a gay scandal (no prostitution or even actual sex was alleged), Republican voters abandoned him in droves. And Republican officeholders didn’t rally behind Craig like they did with David Vitter — John Ensign, then head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee (before his own sex scandal broke) encouraged Craig to make a quick exit: “I wouldn’t put myself hopefully in that kind of position, but if I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do.” Well, he hasn’t resigned, either.
The truth is that for most conservatives “family values” doesn’t mean much beyond discriminating against gays and opposing abortion rights.
Cross-posted at Matt Yglesias' blog at http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org